Legally Ranting

The Intellectual Property Right That May Have Won WWII For Germany

Posted in Intellectual Property, Patent by legalrants on December 9, 2009

All you ex-military types, have a look at this picture below:

Picture adopted from Marinedirect

Yes, its the infamous “jerrycan” used in military organisations around the world — a potential intellectual property right that could have made the difference between victory and defeat for Germany in their WWII campaign.

Before WWII hostilites began in 1939, in order to minimize fuel loses common with the German-style Blitzriek attacks, Hitler ordered his staff to design a new fuel container that was robust enough to survive long ardous journeys on military vehicles. In the strictest secrecy, a German design-and-made fuel container (similar to the one above) was produced in the millions, storing essential fuel that would be vital for their European conquests in the early days of WWII. The Blitzriek (or lightning) tactic employed by the Germans required a long logistical line of supplies in order to be sustainable on the battlefield, most important of the supplies was indeed, fuel (gasoline).

This newly designed fuel container had a number of unique features (all of which was likely to be patent material) – it was flat-sided and rectangular (as opposed to the cylindrical designs used by the Allies initially). An air chamber at the top enabled the container to float on water to facilitate sea-borne operations. Its short spout was secured with a snap closure that could be propped open for pouring (the Allies had to use a spanner-like tool to open their fuel container). An air-breathing tube from the spout to the inner air-space kept the pouring smooth instead of gargling. Most importantly, the insides of the container was lined with an impervious plastic material which made it versatile to be used either for gasoline or water.

Whether by luck or by chance, an American engineer managed to lay his hands on 3 of such containers in 1940. But despite repeated attempts to convince the US military to fully adopt the German design, he could not succeed. In the same year, during the German invasion of Norway, the British troops first encountered the German containers and aptly dubbed it the “jerrycan” (German soldiers were nicknamed “Jerries” by the Brits during WWII).

The reluctance of the Allies to adopt the design of the German fuel containers was disasterous, to say the least, on their military campaigns.  The steel drums used by the Allies at the time were leaky and unreliable, often resulting in insufficient fuel due to leakages or explosions. Indeed, General Wavell’s defeat of the Italians in North Africa in 1940 come to naught as his planes and combat vehicles had literally run out of fuel. Likewise in 1941, General Auchinleck’s victory over Rommel (the “Desert Fox”) had withered away. Finally in 1942, General Montgomery saw to it that he had enough supplies, including fuel, to whip Rommel in spite of terrific wastage. And he was helped by captured jerrycans.

At the time, Allied soldiers in Africa knew that the only fuel container worth having was German. General Auchinleck estimates that the original Allied fuel container was  “flimsy and illconstructed” and led to the loss of thirty per cent of petrol between base and consumer. … “The overall loss was almost incalculable. To calculate the tanks destroyed, the number of men who were killed or went into captivity because of shortage of petrol at some crucial moment, the ships and merchant seamen lost in carrying it, would be quite impossible.”

After 1942, over 21 million jerrycans were widely produced for Allied use across Europe. President Roosevelt observed in November 1944, “Without these cans it would have been impossible for our armies to cut their way across France at a lightning pace which exceeded the German Blitz of 1940.”

If only Hitler had the foresight to engage a competent patent attorney and filed the neccessary patent(s) on their “jerrycans”. Not only could they have won WWII, they would be liable to collect handsome royalties on any non-German production of the well-engineered jerrycans thereafter. Certainly, this would have brought the term “patent wars” to a new level!

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One Response

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  1. punkpop said, on December 10, 2009 at 5:48 am

    Great entry… Germans have been known as first-class engineers/inventors for a long time. I’m sure you’ll be able to dig up more interesting (un)patent inventions that they have done. Might wanna look into what the Japanese have done as well! Good luck and keep the entries going…


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